The Melting Pot

One of the more interesting things about our brief visit to Las Vegas was how diverse the place seems to be.

web1_tourism_101116bh_497_7281632In my walks navigating through the throngs of people up and down the Strip — which is a pretty good place for both walking and people watching — I saw people of all colors, shapes, and sizes (and, frequently, degrees of inebriation) taking in the sights.  The shirts people wear tell you that the place is a magnet for bachelorette parties, family reunions, conventions, and other small-scale get-togethers for people from all over, and you’ll hear lots of people speaking other languages as you walk by.  Las Vegas is like a microcosm of the American “melting pot” idea, reduced to city size.

Which raises the question:  why are so many different people drawn to a place like Las Vegas?  I’m sure that a lot of people just like the prospect of gambling, drinking, and otherwise cutting loose in a place that is legendary for its consequence-free, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mentality.  More broadly, though, I think many people are seeking a little spectacle and energy to break the routine and spice up their lives.  Las Vegas — with its neon, and fantastic buildings, and “anything goes” ‘tude — supplies it.

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Old Vegas

If you head down the Strip toward the towering Stratosphere, it’s a bit like walking back in time. You leave behind all of the huge, sprawling casino and hotel complexes, with their lovely pools and different entertainment options and fine dining establishments, and end up passing places that are much more modest in scale and cost. These are places that date back to the earlier days of Vegas, when wedding chapels, all-you-can-eat buffets, and inexpensive motel rooms were among the attractions.

One of the places you’ll pass is Circus Circus, with its giant neon clown sign. When I came to Vegas in the late ’70s with college buddies, Circus Circus was one of our specific destinations because it was featured in one of our favorite books — Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. We played blackjack there, watched some of the circus acts, and used some lucky winnings to wolf down a huge meal at the all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet.

When Doctor Gonzo wrote the book, Circus Circus was one of the new generation of casino hotels. Given Las Vegas’ seemingly constant reinvention of itself, I wondered if I would find on this trip that Circus Circus had been replaced by some new shimmering tower. I was glad to see that it is still there, offering a glimpse of a different Vegas.

Sign Clash

This morning’s walk disclosed this great confluence of signs on the outskirts of Old Vegas — a marijuana dispensary next to the “Strip Gun Club.” (I think the “strip” refers to the location on Las Vegas Boulevard and not to the lack of clothing on the employees.)

I wonder how many patrons frequent both establishments? Also, do you think there’s a liquor store nearby?

Red Rock Biking

Las Vegas is an interesting place, but the surrounding countryside is worth exploring.  Yesterday, our group ventured about a half hour away from the Strip, out to the Nevada version of Red Rock Canyon — it seems like there’s one of those in just about every western state — for a bike tour with Allison and John, the fine folks at redEbike.

First, a word about the basics of the tour.  Allison and John really make it easy.  Allison picked us up at our hotel and drove us out to the Canyon, John gave us a careful but quick training session on the bikes, and on the tour itself Allison led our pack and John followed to make sure that we stayed together.  As a result, there are no issues with getting lost or taking a wrong turn.

Second, you don’t need to be a cycling stud to do this tour.  The redEbike tours use electric bikes, so you won’t need to be huffing and puffing up the inclines.  The bikes have a quiet motor that is triggered by either moving the pedals or a thumb toggle switch on the handlebars, with four speed options.  So long as you know how to ride a bike (and we all know that once you’ve mastered that skill, you never really forget it), you can operate the bikes and enjoy the ride.  After a little training spin around the parking lot to get the hang of changing the speed setting, we were all ready to go.  On the tour itself, I used the pedals rather than the thumb toggle in order to preserve a modicum of self-respect and feel like I’d gotten a decent amount of exercise.

Third, the tour itself is terrific.  You follow a 16-mile track through Red Rock Canyon that takes about four hours.  You very comfortably share a two-lane road with cars on what is predominantly a one-way loop, going up 1100 feet — that’s where those nifty motors come in handy — and then down again.  The 16 miles are divided into bite-sized, three or four mile chunks with stops that allow you to goggle at the surroundings, walk around, and even get a miniature nature tour about how you can use the plants to survive a zombie apocalypse.  (There are bathrooms at several of the stops, too.)

The scenery is absolutely stunning.  The first stop is a red rock expanse that is used by hikers and rock climbers, pictured above, to show you conclusively that you aren’t in the Midwest anymore, and the rest of the scenery is equally striking.  Add in the fresh air, the desert plant life, the feel of sunshine on your back and the wind in your hair, and a few S curves and occasional straightaways where you can let the bike do its thing, and you’ve got a great alternative to neon, smoky casinos, and huge crowds.

Is there any downside to this great little excursion?  Well, you must don a bicycle helmet and simply accept that, for the entire ride, you’ll look like a hopeless nerd — because that’s what bicycle helmets are designed to do.

Thanks to Allison, John, and redEbike for a wonderful, truly memorable experience for our group.  If you are out in Vegas and looking for for a break from the norm, I give it five stars.  You can learn more about the redEbike electric bike tours here.

Still Fab After 50

Amazingly, more than 50 years after the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released during the summer of 1967, the iconic photo of the Fab Four from the album towers over the Las Vegas strip. The Cirque du Soleil show Love, which features Beatles music, is one of the most popular shows in town.

The Beatles’ music may not prove to be literally timeless, but it has held up pretty well for more than a half century and obviously is still going strong.

Dawn Over The Strip

I can confirm that the sun does in fact set on Las Vegas — and it rises the next morning, too. When I looked out my hotel window this morning I saw dawn’s first rays striking the garish gold Trump hotel across the street, and learned from one of the huge neon signs for the neighboring Wynn hotel that Paul Anka, of all people, is one of their featured acts. Paul Anka!

Gold buildings, neon, still-performing figures from the ’60s, dusty desert mountains in the distance . . . I’ve definitely arrived in Las Vegas.

Fountain Art

On the walk between my hotel and my meetings in Houston this week, there is one of these timed fountains. Maybe it’s because I live in fountain-deprived Columbus, but I find it to be fascinating and beautiful. Not in an overpowering, Las Vegas fountain performance to the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller kind of way, but rather for the simplicity of the arcs traced in the air by the controlled bursts of the water.

It makes me wish that Columbus were more like Rome, and that there were more fountains in the world. I’ll take a fountain over a rusting piece of generic abstract art on a corporate plaza any day.